Wednesday, August 17, 2016

American Success Stories

Although you're seeing this post sometime in August, I'm in the past, writing it on July 4, 2016, some 240 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I mention this fact because it has a direct bearing on what you're about to read.

Earlier today, I had my iPod on shuffle, and Desi Arnaz's "Babalu" started playing. I'm a fan of I Love Lucy, and, having seen the entire series several times through, I can't help but know a few of Arnaz's more famous tunes, including this quintessential one. The song itself, though, isn't what interests me right now. Rather, Arnaz himself does.

He was what I consider to be an American success story. Born to a prominent family inn Cuba but thrust unexpectedly into straitened circumstances during a revolution, he found himself in Miama as a youth and then took up the business of entertainment. He of course met and married Lucille Ball a few years later, and the rest--as they say--is history. Everyone in America must know his name, or at least his face, by now. Not so bad for an immigrant, a non-native English speaker, and a man who dared to marry a white girl and (gasp!) flaunt their relationship on national television.

Thinking of Arnaz leads me to Richard Blanco, another Cuban making his way in America in another, but still contentious, time. Blanco was born in Spain and brought to America by parents who, like the Arnaz family, were fleeing political issues. A civil engineer and writer by training, Blanco was selected to recite a poem at the 2013 presidential inauguration (Barack Obama's second time swearing in). This was an excellent choice for several reasons: not only did Blanco give a flawless reading of his "One Today," but he also represented the changing face of America. For Blanco is an immigrant, yes, and a Latino, but also a gay man. This was a truly monumental moment, and again, I consider Blanco to be an American success story.

In keeping with the artistic bent of these musings so far, I turn to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the nearly inescapable face of Broadway in 2016. While born in America, Miranda comes from Puerto Rican stock. And he is a man who has done a few things all at once: brought attention to musical theater, triggered discussions about American history among people who might not otherwise find it an interesting topic, and dedicated his stage to the showcasing of non-white talent. Moreover, he has gotten away with all of these things through a combination of talent and commitment, which are rare enough personality traits in the public sphere nowadays. What could make his American success story more successful? Maybe only getting his face on a Wheaties box.

You've surely noticed a trend here: each of these men is Latino.

I believe in inclusion. American culture overwhelmingly privileges white people and can be ridiculously appropriative, and diversity of any kind often seems to be an impossible dream. But the United States would not be what it is today without the contributions of people from every racial, ethnic, and sexuality-based background. Unfortunately, for each person calling for a wider variety of viewpoints and a higher level of tolerance or activism, we hear another voice full of vitriol and anger, blaming non-whites--and particularly immigrants--for the perceived woes of our society.

This is unacceptable to me. And it should be unacceptable to you as well. This is America. It's meant to be the land of the free. So why are we, as a nation, working so hard to suppress diversity? We need the white people, the brown people, the black people, the blue people, the gay people, the straight people, the Christians and Jews and Muslims and Democrats and Republicans and even the anarchists, probably. Because we the people are all people, supposedly born equal (or made so as immigrants) under the law.

I've only given three examples here, but there are countless more worth researching and promoting. Those breaking down barriers, crossing lines that represented certain death in the past, marching in order to make themselves and their brethren heard, speaking out when the opportunity presents itself, fighting for what they believe is right, working to recover what was taken from them.

In the event that you haven't looked at a calendar recently, I would like to remind you that it is 2016. And it is long past time to let everyone be heard, respected, and included, and I cannot stress that enough.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Craft

Sometime in the Aughts, my mother dragged me and my sister-in-law to the home of a church member for a scrapbooking demonstration and sales pitch; this church friend worked for Creative Memories (RIP and then welcome back), which at the time was probably the biggest name in the scrapbooking game. 

Truly, it doesn't take much to get me on board with stuff like this; I'm a sucker for arts and crafts, because I want so much to be artsy and crafty, which I am mostly not, in spite of the eight trillion dollars my parents paid for me to take art classes at this awesome little place not too far from our house when I was growing up. So of course I was all, "Scrapbooking is fun!" And Mom apparently agreed, because she then spent a further eight trillion dollars on CM products. 

Flash forward however many years. I still have not become artsy or craftsy, even though I have all those adult coloring books and I attempt to crochet things and I worked (literally) three shifts at Joann Fabric before unceremoniously quitting because I had too much time to think about all the other things I wasn't accomplishing with my life while simultaneously accomplishing nothing with my life. And yet! I do make regular attempts to do scrapbooking-related things, whether that's actually making scrapbook pages or, as has been the case this summer, making cards. 

Crafting makes me feel more useful, somehow, because I'm doing things with my hands rather than sitting around staring at a computer screen. Even though I often make things that look less than ideal, it's still nice to create anything at all. I've even gotten into crochet, which my grandmother tried twice to teach me when I was growing up but never stuck. Even though my niece is, so far, the only person who has received anything I've made, she seems to be behind me one hundred percent, and that gives me all the motivation I need to continue.

Plus it's nice to channel my creativity elsewhere when I'm overwhelmed (or underwhelmed, as the case may be) by the writing process, or else awaiting responses from publishers. That way, I have something to occupy me that is non-detrimental and keeps my brain in that creative place. What could be better?


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I am--sadly, and semi-unwillingly--back at work now, after having been able to take some time off. This invariably means that I ventured home to Michigan, as I have few other places I can (or want to) spend an extended period of time. But what do I do while I'm there? Sometimes this is a mystery even to me, as it's not unusual for me to realize I've been home for X number of days or weeks without having accomplished anything substantial. So this year, I've decided to take stock of my summer activities, mainly for my personal edification (because what is a blog, after all, but an exercise in navel gazing?).

1) Blogging
While it's true that I haven't done nearly as much with this blog as I could or should have, I did manage to write a few posts, which I sort of, um, had not done in the month or two leading up to the summer. If I could get paid for being a slacker, I'd be pretty rich by now, to be perfectly honest.

2) Retreating
I spent two and a half days of June at Interlochen Center for the Arts (in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan) taking a course called Live Your Art Retreat and Creativity Incubator, taught by Holly Wren Spaulding, a Michigan native who is primarily a poet. I recommend both Interlochen and Spaulding for your artistic needs!

3) Shopping
I would not be me if I hadn't spent at least part of my summer buying (an absolutely necessary amount of) books. Of course, this also involves visiting local bookstores when I'm traveling, in which manner I was able to discover the used bookstore Landmark Books and the full-price shop Brilliant Books, both in Traverse City. I especially love Brilliant Books; the people who work there are incredible and warm in a way that only independent booksellers can be (and shout-out to them for giving me a free coffee mug).

During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, my mother insisted that we go to South Haven to explore the (used and new) bookstore Black River Books, which she had stumbled across back in May and thought I would like, which I did. Later in July, she took me to the Lansing branch of Schuler Books and Music (new and used), which is borderline overwhelming but also fun.

Because I also found places elsewhere in the spring, before I came home, I'd like to mention them even though they weren't part of my summer vacation: Cottonwood Books (new and used) in Baton Rouge and 1/4 Price Books (used) in Houston, which are both interesting and useful places! Many thanks to Kristi for recommending Cottonwood and Emily for recommending 1/4 Price.

4) Researching
While I didn't engage in any classroom- or instruction-based professional development for my job (although Live Your Art gave me some good ideas for my paid work as well as my writing!), I did make an effort to do some reading that would further my understanding of and ability to perform my job in Louisiana. Any time I found an article online that might relate to my position, I would read it and make notes on especially relevant things so I could share this information with my coworkers. 

I also read a legal history of censorship and indecency law called Not in Front of the Children. It had been a textbook of mine in college; at that time, we employed only the first third or so of the book, and I was excited to finally finish it all these years later, since it relates to what I do.

5) Crafting
Sometimes, I come up with these crazy ideas about getting crafty. This almost always ends badly, and I'll be writing a post about it soon. Stay tuned.

6) Snuggling
My dog resides with my parents out of necessity (I am not allowed to have pets where I live). I miss her stupid, cute little face all the time when I'm away, so I take these vacations as an opportunity to overload myself with puppy time. We play. We watch movies. We take naps. It's incredible. I wish I could spend every day with her.

All of this makes me sound like I stayed busier than I did. For the most part, I sat around or slept or caught up on some of the movies I missed earlier by not having much money for the cinema. I also saw Niece and Nephew, of course, and played a prank on my brother (which I regret approximately zero percent); I may be *cough*adklfjeiwndfk*cough* years old, but some things never get old.

I'll wrap this up by saying that I don't intend to sound like a schoolmarm, but I'm genuinely curious: how did YOU spend your summer? Let me know, if you're so inclined.